Japanese Man Died of Mad Cow Disease Variant, Officials Say

Japan has confirmed its first case of the human form of mad cow disease. Officials say a Japanese man died two months ago of the brain wasting illness, which is usually caused by eating contaminated beef.

Japan's health ministry convened an emergency meeting of experts Friday. Officials then announced they had concluded that a Japanese man in his early 50s had succumbed to the human form of mad cow disease in December. They say he first showed symptoms of the disease in late 2001.

The unprecedented diagnosis in Japan was based on the opinions of experts, such as neurologist Masahito Yamada of the Kanazawa University School of Medicine.

Dr. Yamada says the patient had been virtually immobile for a year before he died, which is symptomatic of the disease.

About 150 people have died of the disease, known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, in Britain since the first case was confirmed there in 1996. Dr. Tetsuyuki Kitamoto of Tohoku University, chairman of Japan's CJD Surveillance Committee, says he is almost certain the Japanese victim contracted the disease during a one-month visit to Britain in 1989.

Dr. Kitamoto says almost all cases outside Britain involve people who had been to the United Kingdom.

Humans get the disease by eating the meat of cattle with mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Japan has reported at least 14 cows infected with the disease since 2001.

Agriculture and health officials say there is no need for the public to panic, insisting there is no risk from eating beef produced in Japan. They say Japanese meat is safe because all cattle are tested for the disease, and tissue thought to carry the disease - such as the brain and bones - are removed before the meat goes to market.

Japan also has halted beef exports from the United States and Canada after cattle infected with BSE were found in those countries. Both governments have been negotiating with Japanese officials to resume the beef trade.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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